Top Tips for Exercising at Home

When I talk to people about physical activity – in both work and personal capacities – lots of them tell me they either don’t have time to exercise or can’t afford to. So when I was asked by Decathlon to review some of their sportswear and blog about how to exercise at home, it seemed like a great chance to offer a few tips for busy and/or cash-strapped people who’d like to get a bit fitter.

It may come as a surprise to hear that – wait for it – I have never been to a gym! The main reason is probably that I’m just not organised enough. But I also think it can be quite expensive and time-consuming. There’s the membership fee for a start; and by the time you’ve got in the car, driven there, done a session and driven back that’s probably about two hours of your day taken care of. One of the many reasons I love running is that it’s a very simple sport and you don’t need to go anywhere special to do it – you just get changed and go! So it’s the ideal cardio exercise to do from home. I often run past a gym where I live, and on beautiful, sunny days I see people running indoors on treadmills. I wonder why they pay to do that when they could be outside in the fresh air! Of course if the weather is bad it’s a tempting option, but if you’re properly kitted out with a decent running jacket and hat there isn’t much weather that can stop you. And it’s free!

“Aha!” you may say, “but running isn’t free – you need expensive shoes and clothes”. Not so! Obviously it’s possible to spend a fortune on fancy sports kit, but you certainly don’t have to. I’ve been really surprised at the quality of Decathlon’s Kalenji running range, and the prices represent amazing value. I have a couple of French running friends who’ve been using Decathlon stuff for years and rate it very highly. So don’t feel you have to go top end to buy gear that does the job! The jacket I’m wearing in these pics is really cool; a fab, bright colour, with some great features like a ventilation flap across the top of the back. The tights are a nice snug fit, made of very soft, breathable material with ventilation panels down the side and have a handy key pocket on the leg.

This base layer is super-warm. With its thumb holes and high neck it’s perfect for winter trail running. It would also be great for winter cycling or walking. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it!

Sometimes I run to work, which is a great way to build exercise into your day if you’re short of time. It’s only a couple of miles, so I often take a longer route home to fit in a few more. I realise I’m very lucky to have showers and a drying room where I work, but it’s also amazing what you can achieve with a few wet wipes, some deodorant and a pony tail! Cycling or walking can be less sweaty options. If your workplace is far away, try taking the bus or train instead of driving, getting off a few stops early and running or walking the rest of the way. Every little helps, and you might save some bus/train fare too. Active commuting does require a bit of organisation – ensuring you’ve got things like work clothes and shoes where you need them – but it’s an easy way to make exercise part of your regular routine. When you exercise early in the morning you can also feel smug for the rest of the day!

But what if you find it hard to leave the house to exercise? For example, if you have young children and no childcare? It can be difficult to get outside if that’s the case. I know a couple of mums who swap childcare sessions so they can go running – one looks after the kids while the other goes out and vice versa. Or you could consider getting a treadmill. Yes, they can be expensive, but there are often second hand bargains available from people who bought them with good intentions but then gave up – that’s how I got mine, although I only use it as a last resort! Or why not go halves with a nearby friend? If that’s not an option, there are lots of fitness sessions available online that you can take part in at home. Just Google ‘exercise at home’ and loads of options pop up! The NHS and BBC Get Inspired websites both have great short workouts that are the perfect introduction to exercising at home, and you don’t need any special equipment to do them; just a bit of space and some comfy clothes. Why not get a couple of friends round, do it together and have a coffee or healthy juice and a chat afterwards? Or you could simply go for a brisk group walk – with babies in pushchairs if needs be! Much cheaper and more sociable than the gym.

I love going to yoga as a complement to running, but if I can’t get to my favourite vinyasa flow class at York Yoga Studio I try to do a training session at home; usually a combination of some yoga, strength work and stretching. I’m not very good at yoga, but I do love it!

Decathlon also sent me some of their Domyos yoga wear to try. It’s really comfortable and colourful – perfect for this kind of activity – and much of the range is made from super-soft organic cotton. I was very impressed by these breathable yoga leggings, which have clearly been well thought through in the design. The material is really soft and doesn’t go see though when you bend over. There’s a nice high waistband (essential for yoga) with a tiny key pocket, plus a seamless crotch. I love the colour too. Best of all, they only cost £19.99! You’d usually pay much more for this level of quality. The vest is really light and airy – great for a dynamic flow practice – and the t-shirt is so soft and stylish I’d happily use it as normal leisure wear.

I’m not saying nobody should ever go to the gym – far from it! I’m sure there are lots of people who attend regularly and get good value from their membership. But for anyone with little time or money, it’s good to know that you can go a long way to keeping yourself fit without leaving home or spending lots of cash.

Do you have any top fitness tips for saving time and money? I’d love to know.

 

 

Top Tips for London Marathon First-Timers

Ooh, there’s less than a month to go now til the London Marathon. Are you excited? Nervous? Terrified? Any (or indeed all) of those three are acceptable and quite understandable. I ran London for the first time last year. It was my ninth marathon and, although never terrified, I did alternate between excited and nervous in the run-up. After several unsuccessful ballot applications I’d worked really hard to get my Good For Age place, and I think I was worried I wouldn’t do it justice on the day. I really wanted to get another sub 4, but in the end I didn’t quite make it; you can read how it went here. I thought I’d only do London once, but when I realised my Good For Age was still valid for 2018 I couldn’t resist coming back on unfinished business!

To be honest, running the actual marathon was the least of my concerns as the big day approached last year. I was more worried about transport and logistics. Being a simple northern lass I am unused to the ways of the Big Smoke, so had to plan everything to the nth degree. I find I feel less nervous if I’m well organised. So here are my top tips for the VLM if you’re running it for the first time, and especially if you aren’t a local.

If you need to book transport and accommodation and haven’t done it yet, DO IT NOW! Otherwise there probably won’t be any hotel rooms left. And be prepared to pay upward of £150 for a Travelodge/Premier Inn room that would normally cost about a third of that. That’s just how it is I’m afraid. I must say, when I ran Paris and Berlin accommodation wasn’t the massive rip-off at marathon time that it seems to be in London. If you’re wondering whether to stay near the start or the finish, there’s no perfect solution. My advice would be to stay near a tube or railway station that makes your journey to the start as stress-free as possible. Last year I stayed at a Premier Inn near Cannon Street station, which was perfect. This year I’m going straight back up north afterwards, so I’m staying near Kings Cross, then I can pick up my bags and make a swift getaway when I’ve finished. And, of course, train tickets cost more the closer to travel time you buy them.

You might also want to consider booking somewhere to eat on Saturday evening in advance. Obviously there are no end of restaurants in London, but if you want Italian (for carb loading purposes) near your hotel at a particular time, I say you might as well find one and book it. One less thing to worry about.

You’ll need to pick up your bib number at the race expo at ExCeL before Sunday. This may sound obvious, but someone I know who’s running London for the first time this year recently asked me “When do they post out the numbers?”. They then had to change their train ticket to allow time to get to the expo before it closes on Saturday! So I’m just putting it out there to be on the safe side, because under no circumstances will you be able to pick it up on the day. The earlier in the week you visit, the less busy it will be. And while we’re on the subject of the expo, think very carefully about whether you really need to spend loads of time there looking at stuff, especially if you’re visiting on Saturday. It’s a fair schlep out there to start with, and you really need to be resting your legs as much as possible the day before. It’s great to browse all the lovely, shiny running kit, but think about why you’re there. Same with sightseeing; it’s tempting to do loads of walking around town, especially if you’re there with non-running family/friends, but you really shouldn’t if you want to be at your best on Sunday. Something to consider.

Make sure you know which start area you’re on and plan your journey there before the day itself. Trains and the Tube are free for runners, so it’s the obvious (and quickest) way to travel. And allow plenty of time to get there, as trains can get very crowded and it’s a bit of a walk from the stations to the start areas. When you get there, if you’re dropping a bag do that before you get in the toilet queue. I encountered several people last year who were in the loo queue with their bags when the final baggage call came; it’s quite a while before the start time. They then had to abandon the queue to drop their bags, then get back in it again! Bring an old fleece or jumper that you don’t mind throwing away to keep you warm before the start, then you can drop your bag straight away.

Don’t set off too fast! The whole atmosphere is really exciting, including seeing the elite start on the big screen, so the temptation to go for it like a greyhound is huge. Follow a pacer to keep you on track if it helps. If you don’t rein it in, you’ll really regret it later on. You should get to at least halfway feeling comfortable with your pace.

Don’t drink too much. It’s tempting to keep sipping at a drink when you’re hanging around in the start area just for something to do. From mile three there is a water point at every mile along the course, so there’s no need to overdo it before you set off. Unless it’s a really warm day you might not even need to drink at every station. Otherwise you’ll be slowed down by toilet stops!

People often say at races that ‘the crowd will get you round’. Nowhere is this more true than London! The crowds are huge, noisy and amazing, so there’s a wall of noise all along the course. Some people actually find this a bit oppressive, but I loved it. For this reason, don’t assume you’ll be able to see or hear your supporters en route. Last year my husband said I just ran straight past him at two separate points, even though he was shouting my name, simply because I couldn’t make him out amidst all the stuff going on! But at least there’s plenty to look at when you start to flag.

No matter how tired you are, enjoy that final stretch when you turn right at Buckingham Palace and run towards the finish line along the Mall. I deliberately slowed down last year to try and take it all in. Also: I was knackered! The crowds, the music, the commentary, the flags… it’s a unique experience that you might only have once in a lifetime. Don’t rush it, you’ve earned that big finish!

If you’re meeting people at the end, arrange a specific point to do that. There will be thousands of people milling about in the finish area, so it could take a while to find each other if you’re just randomly seeking each other out. You can’t totally rely on phone contact, as the network often gets overloaded with calls. There is an official meeting point, so make sure in advance you know where you’re going to be. Otherwise you might be like me and the OH the first time I did the Great North Run – wandering round for an hour and a half before you finally find each other!

Do you have any top tips for London? I’d love to hear them. Whatever you do, have a brilliant day!

Top Tips for Marathon Monster Month

If you (like me) are following a standard kind of 16-week raining plan for the London Marathon (or indeed any other marathon at around the same time) you’re probably now just into what’s known in running circles as ‘Monster Month’ – the four week period where you do your hardest block of work, before you start to taper. It’s a time when you can build on the previous nine weeks of training to give yourself a bit of a beasting before you start to back off a bit in the three week run-up to the big day.

It’s also a time when you might think either a) “I’m starting to feel really good now” or b) “Why in the wide world of sport did I ever sign up for this?” I’ve done quite a few cycles of marathon training now, and I’ve felt both ways at various points! But I haven’t run a road marathon since London last year, so feeling I’m slightly nervous about this year. I’m not a running  expert by any means, but I have learnt that Monster Month is a time when you have to look after yourself if you want to make it to race day feeling on top form. So here are my top tips for surviving it!

Listen to your body and don’t be a complete slave to your training plan. If you pick up a niggle or feel ill, don’t try to push on through just because the plan says you have to run today. Better to take a couple of days off than have to give up completely because you aggravated something by ignoring it. Nobody gets through a whole plan without missing a few sessions – that’s just life.

If you do have a niggle that doesn’t go away after a couple of days, or gets worse when you run, see a physio. They’ll probably be able to help you find a way to manage it if it’s not serious. The longer you leave it and the worse it gets, the harder it will be to deal with.

Look after your immune system. Hard training puts a huge strain on it, and will make you more susceptible to any bugs floating around. I sometimes take an Omega 3 supplement after a long Sunday run for its anti-inflammatory properties. If I feel like I might be coming down with something I take some immune-boosting echinacea. Pay attention to hand hygiene too, which is how most bugs get passed on.

Get plenty of sleep. Sleepy time is when your body can rest and recover from all the stress you’ve put on it in training.

Look after your feet – they deserve a bit of pampering. I absolutely love the Body Shop’s Peppermint Intensive Foot Rescue Cream. And if you have any issues with your shoes, sort them out now – don’t wait til two weeks before the event to get new ones!

Eat well – plenty of protein, good carbs and lots of fruit and veggies. This really will help to fuel your training and recovery. Monster Month isn’t a time to diet, but neither is it an excuse to eat lots of junk, especially if you’re looking to lose a few pounds. Although I do like a bit of cake after my long Sunday run!

Keep booze to a minimum; it makes more difference than you might think, even if you don’t feel hung over. I know from personal experience this can be hard if you have the sort of friends who think it’s weird not to drink alcohol when you go out, but it really is worth it. I find if I drink on Friday and/or Saturday I don’t run as well on Sunday. Although I do like a glass of red with my post-run Sunday dinner. Well it’s got antioxidants, hasn’t it?!

Get a sports massage halfway through the month if you can. Your legs will deserve and appreciate it! And make sure you do plenty of stretching and foam rolling – but not too hard with the roller.

Most of all, enjoy it! I always think an event is as much about the training as the big day itself. Embrace the challenge and be proud of what you’re doing, especially if it’s your first time. Don’t look upon a long run as punishment. Get your tunes going (if you like) and settle in for the ride.

Monster Month is also a great time to experiment with different running fuels. The more I run long distances, the more convinced I am that keeping well fuelled is as important as training to success. Obviously different things work well for different people. Personally I’m happy to eat ‘real’ food in an ultra, when I’m running slowly, but I can’t do that in a faster road marathon. I used to always take Clif Shot Bloks in marathons, but struggled to eat them at London last year, and I think that’s why I slowed down near the end and didn’t quite hit my four hour target. This year I’m planning to take gels, although I’m not sure which ones yet. I like SiS isotonic gels, but find them really difficult to open on the run. Last weekend I tried an OTE gel, which was much easier to open and  tasted good, so I might take those – but I’ll try some others in training first. One thing’s for sure, nailing your nutrition will definitely help you to avoid the dreaded Wall!

Do you have any top tips for Monster Month? I’d love to hear them. Good luck with it anyway!

 

 

 

Running Update and London Marathon Training

I’m now halfway through my training plan for the London Marathon, so this seems a good time to take stock of where I am with my running at the moment.

After being injured for most of the second half of last year, I’ve only been back to what I’d term ‘proper’ running since I started marathon training on New Year’s Day (appropriately!). I usually follow an Asics Sub 4 plan, which has served me well in the past, and resulted in a sub 4 time twice; but coming back from injury I felt I should be a bit cautious and follow my beginner’s training plan, which is from Women’s Running magazine. However, I have been mixing things up a bit between the two. Possibly not the most scientific way to train, but it gives me options depending on how I’m feeling. I think it’s important to listen to your body when you’ve been injured to avoid a relapse, and bar the odd twinge I seem to be OK so far – fingers firmly crossed!

Despite turbo training, I definitely lost some cardio fitness and put on a few pounds while I was injured, so I’m trying to fix that in the run-up to London. I’ve done a few great events in January and February, which I think have definitely helped me to get a bit fitter and stronger; the Temple Newsam Ten, the Hardmoors Saltburn Half (a killer!) and the Harewood House Half – all hilly courses that I hope are building leg strength as well as fitness. I’m also paying a bit more attention to my diet, cutting out snacks and wine – well mostly anyway!

To help prevent my ankle injury returning as my mileage increases, I’ve invested in some super-cushiony road shoes – Hoka Claytons. They’re very different to my usual Brooks Pure Cadence in that they’re really bouncy, but they have a similarly small drop so have been easy to adapt to. I’ve always been put off maximal shoes in the past as I thought they’d make me look like an ageing Spice Girl(!), but I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how light and comfy they feel. Hopefully they’ll serve me well though marathon training and London.

I don’t have any more events on the cards until the end of March, when I’m doing the Daffodil Dash, organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. This is a great event held at Temple Newsam, where you can choose to do up to four laps of the course, with four laps being marathon distance. I’ve taken the 20 mile (three lap) option, as my training plan has a three hour run on it that weekend anyway, so it seemed a great way to do that run off-road in beautiful surroundings with support en route. And last year there was a fab goody bag too!

If you’re training for a spring marathon I hope it’s going well. I’d like to have a crack sub 4 (Good For Age) again at London, especially as I didn’t quite manage it last year, finishing in 4:05; but as I’m not at my best it currently seems a bit optimistic. I guess I’ll just have to see how I feel in a few weeks’ time. Never say never!

 

 

Race Review – Hardmoors Saltburn Half Marathon 2018

I did my first Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half, last summer and really enjoyed it. When I entered Hardmoors Saltburn I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run it, as I was still suffering with my ankle tendon problems after Race to the Stones; but Hardmoors events are very popular – if you don’t act quickly when entry opens you don’t get in – so I took a chance, and I’m very glad I did.

The Hardmoors trail races take place throughout the year and usually feature a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon. They’re famed for being tough and a bit longer than the standard distances – but that’s all part of the fun! On this occasion I’d gone for the half, as I knew I wouldn’t be fit enough at this point to tackle a hilly marathon. There was quite a bit of rain in the couple of days beforehand, so we were warned to be prepared for muddy conditions. The weather on race day was cold and windy, but gloriously sunny – unlike last year, when conditions were apparently Baltic! I was prepared for a tough day out, as I’m far from fully fit at the moment, but knew it would be great marathon training.

The races started and finished at Saltburn Leisure Centre, which also offered a good place to shelter from the biting wind before setting off. There is a mandatory kit list for the half and full marathons, and kit is checked and approved before you can pick up your race number. Spot checks apparently also take place at the end, so don’t think you can check in and then leave half your stuff in the car! The marathon started at 9 am, with the half at 10 and the 10K at 10.30.

We started with a pleasant trot through the Valley Gardens in Saltburn, then it was down to the sea front before the first climb up Cat Nab. Everyone walked this! Up on the cliff top – the Cleveland Way – the view was spectacular, with super-blue sky and sea; and the wind wasn’t too bad, coming from the right hand side.

At this point I felt hopeful that I might finish in about three hours, as the Wainstones half had taken me about 3:15. But the path gradually turned very muddy underfoot, and stayed that way for most of the race. It was quite deep and wet in places, really taking a lot of energy to get through and slowing us all down. There were some grassy and Tarmac sections, but the real challenge of the day turned out to be remaining upright. Somehow I managed not to end up on my backside, but it was a close call a few times!

After nearly 5 miles the route went downhill into the village of Skinningrove, where the first checkpoint was. There were three checkpoints along the way, each stocked with water, Coke, jelly sweets, peanuts and marshmallows – which are now my new favourite race food, by the way, so easy to eat! There were also Jaffa Cakes at the final checkpoint. After Skinningrove there was a huge climb that seemed to go on forever. Everyone I could see was walking this one too. I imagine only the top athletes ran it! Proper leg-busting stuff. At around the halfway point the route left the Cleveland Way and turned inland (although we could still see the sea in places) and we started to head back towards Saltburn along a path called Cleveland Street. We were now running into a headwind, which made things even harder! A few of us took a slight detour just before the second checkpoint, having missed one of the yellow markers – probably about half a mile in all – but in general the course is very well marked and marshalled, and all the marshals were lovely and encouraging.

There were ups and downs in the last few miles of the route, but nothing like the two big climbs in the first half. We approached Saltburn through the village of Skelton, and then headed back to the Leisure Centre with a climb up and down Valley Gardens again. We ran right into the sports hall to finish, where our times were clocked at the desk. My official time was 3:29:43 (including the little detour!) and I was 101st out of 187 finishers. I was fairly pleased with that, considering I’ve only really been running properly again since about Christmas. There was a great medal, and as a bonus the t-shirt is in my favourite colour!

There was some food provided at the end, but it wasn’t up to much. Maybe it would have been better if I’d finished quicker, but there were just a few cheese sarnies and some little bits of cake by the time I got there. But hey, it’s not about the food – Hardmoors events in general seem to be great value for money and well organised. I’ve already signed up for two more events later this year: the White Horse marathon in June and the Rosedale one in August. Entry for the Hardmoors 60 in September opens soon and I’m so, so tempted to enter, as I seem to have overcome my injury now (touch wood).

This was a tough but fab day, and (considering how much my legs hurt the next day) great  marathon preparation. Onwards to London!